There was a moment a long time ago when I stood in a record store for the first time trying to decide what tape I wanted to buy (back when cassette tapes were in vogue) On one shelf was the entire catalogue of THE CURE. Below it was the entire DEPECHE MODE collection. Now there are some decisions in life that define us as people. This was one of those times. I was still an impressionable youth and had yet to really form a true identity (after all I was a freshman in high school at the time). In the end I snapped up "People are People" and that, my friend, has made a world of difference. Now I have come to also count The Cure as one of my personal favorites but I don't think at the time I was ready to travel the mascara and goth path with the same reckless abandon (preferring the more subtle S and M look of Depeche Mode...man was I naive then)
Anyway, the reason I recall this little tale is because through a confluence of events Depeche Mode are back in the news. Now the band hasn't made a really great record in awhile (although the last record "Playing The Angel" was at least a tolerable return to earlier form), but what's interesting is that most of the band is releasing solo material. So it seemed to be a good time take stock on all things Mode.
At the heart, Depeche Mode is the unique chemistry between Martin Gore and Dave Gahan. Gore has been the principle songwriter since Vince Clarke left all those years ago. Gore has always had the keen ability to tap into the pain and misery of flawed romance and marry it to music that is both catchy and danceable. What I find odd is that when he strikes out solo he only covers other people's songs. Is this an artistic attempt to separate himself from the brand he helped invent? Or merely a creative lark because he doesn't want to throw away good material on a record that won't sell very well? Either way, the music on his two solo albums, "Counterfeit" and "Counterfeit2" is certainly in line with the majestic ballads he tends to sing on DM records. The first ep was released ages ago with the proper solo album out in 2003 so the music is somewhat dated by now. It's a shame he doesn't stretch more (other than really giving in to his obvious love of gospel). Not surprisingly, my favorite song of his solo work is the most reminiscent of classic Depeche Mode, the poppiest song on his first ep called "Compulsion".
In a kind of musical irony its Dave Gahan that has used the solo platform to try to establish himself as an artist. For the entirety of the band Gahan has been the vessel for the words of others so his solo records have been an attempt for him to tell his story (and anyone familiar with his tale knows that there is certainly enough source material for several albums). Musically he does not stray much from the Depeche sound of later years (he even is credited with three songs on "Playing the Angel"). Lyrically his material is full of pain and misery and he a surprisingly adept wordsmith. The first album, 2003's "Paper Monsters" used to blues influence that had been creeping into the band's work to it's fullest effect. I here that the new record (to be released on October 23rd, my birthday) is a continuation of this sound to the point where it's hard to separate it from a proper Depeche Mode record.
And perhaps this is the problem. When bands start putting out solo work it should take risks. Why otherwise would people be interested. If the members of a band are going to rehash their sound under their own moniker then there is really little point (other than the monetary benefits of not having to share royalties.) Wouldn't the time be better spent going back into the studio as a group and rekindling the magic that made them great in the first place?
(mp3) Martin Gore -- Gone
(mp3) Dave Gahan -- I Need You
p.s. for a real treat you can jump on over to Pop Will Eat My Blog and get the album by former DM member Alan Wilder's other band RECOIL. A true artistic risk, Wilder enlisted Toni Halliday and others to make a whole new sound (for it's time) This is how you make a solo album. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!